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Tuesday, a report written by the company proposing the world's largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery was released by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County, Washington. The proposed fossil fuel refinery is controversial because of the impacts on both local residents' health and our climate. Despite the company's claim that the refinery could result in a climate benefit, the refinery would consume a stunning amount of fracked natural gas—one-third as much gas as the entire state of Washington.

"There is no way to make the world's largest methanol refinery look pretty. The project is dangerous, harmful to our health, and locks in decades of fossil fuel use," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

Tuesday, a report written by the company proposing the world’s largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery was released by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County, Washington. The proposed fossil fuel refinery is controversial because of the impacts on both local residents’ health and our climate. Despite the company’s claim that the refinery could result in a climate benefit, the refinery would consume a stunning amount of fracked natural gas—one-third as much gas as the entire state of Washington.


“There is no way to make the world’s largest methanol refinery look pretty. The project is dangerous, harmful to our health, and locks in decades of fossil fuel use,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

A 2016 study by the Stockholm Environment Institute concluded that Northwest Innovation Works’ proposal could increase overall global greenhouse gas emissions and is likely inconsistent with a low-carbon future. Last year, Northwest Innovation Works lost a lawsuit that required the company to evaluate the lifecycle greenhouse gas impacts of the methanol refinery. The report, released Tuesday as part the project’s environmental review by local governments and Washington State, underestimates the refinery’s greenhouse gas impacts: the report relies on cherry-picked studies, outdated information and highly speculative assumptions to frame the project as a win-win for climate and business.

“Governor Inslee understands the dangers of fracking and fossil fuels,” said Cecile Gernez, conservation organizer with the Sierra Club Washington State Chapter. “Now is the critical moment for our governor to call out this fracked gas refinery for what it is: a dirty fossil fuel project.”

Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity faulted Northwest Innovation Works’ report because it:

  • Underestimates both the the amount and the potency of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, that would be associated with the Kalama facility due to increased fracking. The company ignores or downplays multiple comprehensive studies finding a significantly higher methane-leakage rate than the report relies on and, in turn, underestimates the climate impacts of extracting and transporting the gas that will be processed at the facility. The report also relies on outdated metrics that underestimate the climate-disrupting impact of methane.
  • Fails to properly evaluate the climate impacts of fracking if the company relies on fracked gas from the U.S. rather than Canada in the future. The report primarily assumes that Northwest Innovation Works will purchase gas from British Columbia for the lifetime of the project, ignoring shifting gas markets and plans for more gas pipelines from the Intermountain West to serve Pacific Northwest markets. Furthermore, the report underestimates the amount and greenhouse gas potency of U.S. gas.
  • Relies on highly speculative assumptions about global methanol markets and China’s use of coal-based methanol production. The report relies on a series of questionable assumptions about global methanol markets, energy commodity prices, Chinese government policy, and U.S.-China trade relations to conclude the project results in a net climate benefit.
  • Does not properly account for the greenhouse gas impacts of methanol as a fuel source, a probable use of the methanol produced in Kalama. An April 2017 China Daily article quotes We Lebin, the chairman of the Kalama project’s parent company, saying that the plant’s output could “replace diesel, coal and gas with methanol to power vehicles.” Lebin doubled down on the claims in a December 2017 Reuters article, saying that, “[the company] also wants to drive use of methanol as a transportation fuel for cars and ships.” Yet the report does not analyze the greenhouse gas impacts of using the facility’s methanol as fuel in comparison to non-fossil alternatives such as electric vehicles.

“The report spills a lot of words trying to justify polluting our air, risking our health, and taking private property to make petrochemicals to send to China. We’re hopeful that Washington leaders choose a brighter future over this dirty plan,” said Marrene Jenkins, a retired nurse and Kalama resident.

“This massive refinery would be a disaster for the climate, public health, and wildlife that rely on clean air and water,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The last thing we need is another fossil fuel project spewing pollution into our environment.”

In addition to climate and health impacts, the methanol refinery would require a new pipeline to carry fracked gas. Landowners on the pipeline route have already received notice that the company can use eminent domain to take their land.

The Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County will hold a public hearing on Dec. 13. The Port of Kalama, Cowlitz County and the Washington Department of Ecology have authority to deny the project.

The good news: You can protect our climate and the Columbia. A critical public comment period is open now on the supplemental environmental review of the Kalama fracked gas-to-methanol refinery.

Protect the Pacific Northwest from new mega-fracked gas infrastructure by submitting a comment today!

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Dan Serres

As highlighted by the article Why Does Climate Change Matter to the Columbia?, we are in the the fight of our lives to stop dirty fossil fuels and transition to clean energy. The good news? You are making a difference right now. As activists, you have a tremendous impact on greenhouse gas pollution in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past decade, you defeated the region's largest fossil fuel proposals. From stopping liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments on the Lower Columbia River, to blocking mind-blowing quantities of coal exports, to persuading Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to deny North America's largest oil train terminal, your efforts register on a global scale.

By Dan Serres

As highlighted by the article Why Does Climate Change Matter to the Columbia?, we are in the the fight of our lives to stop dirty fossil fuels and transition to clean energy. The good news? You are making a difference right now. As activists, you have a tremendous impact on greenhouse gas pollution in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past decade, you defeated the region’s largest fossil fuel proposals. From stopping liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments on the Lower Columbia River, to blocking mind-blowing quantities of coal exports, to persuading Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to deny North America’s largest oil train terminal, your efforts register on a global scale.


Together, we have helped prevent:

  • Coal — more than 132 million tons per year, destined to travel through the Columbia River Gorge in dozens of mile-long coal trains, to ports in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
  • Oil — more than 760,000 barrels per day shipped in “bomb trains” to new or expanded oil-by-rail terminals in Oregon and Washington.
  • Fracked Gas — more than 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas per day (more than Washington and Oregon combined use in a day), by defeating pipeline, power plant, and LNG terminal proposals. And we continue to fight projects in Kalama and Port Westward that would use or export another 640 million cubic feet.

Altogether, you helped stop 471 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year. That’s almost four times the carbon pollution of the Keystone XL pipeline, and more than seven times Oregon’s total in-state greenhouse gas pollution. Incredible! Not only did you take a stand for our climate, but you made a difference for clean air and water as well. Fossil fuel projects pose tremendous safety and toxic pollution risks to millions of people across the Northwest. When we fight fossil fuels, we are fighting for clean water and healthy communities.

Together We Are Strong

To win against powerful coal, oil and gas interests, we must work together with allies. Riverkeeper engages with community activists from eastern Oregon and Washington all the way to the mouth of the Columbia River.

People may fight dangerous fossil-fuel projects because the projects harm local businesses, water resources, forests, farms or public safety. We are fortunate to work with firefighters, fishers, foresters, farmers, health professionals, educators and union leaders who see fossil fuel risks in their communities and stand against injustice. Whether seeking to protect critical salmon habitat, the safety of schools near rail lines, or a stable climate for our children, we seek common ground and a path away from dangerous fossil fuels. We strive to learn from one another and stand in solidarity across traditional political boundaries.

We also salute the incredible work of Columbia River tribes that stood up to coal exports and oil-by-rail. Several tribal nations presented rock-solid arguments to state and federal decision-makers on the dangerous impacts of coal exports and oil-by-rail. According to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission:

[Our] opposition stems not only from the climate effects of continued fossil fuel use, but also the present danger of transportation risks. Continued reliance on fossil fuels would have long-lasting, harmful impacts to the environment and the natural resources upon which tribal cultures are based. This alone is reason enough for opposition to expanding fossil fuel transport through the region, but adding in the risk of catastrophic environmental damage from spills and derailments and the correct course of action is even more obvious.

We are honored to work in solidarity with these tribes to protect the Columbia from the perils of oil-by-rail and other dangerous fossil fuel projects.

The Battle Continues

Linking Grassroots Power to Expert Advocacy The “Thin Green Line”—the Northwest’s remarkable effort to block fossil fuel expansion projects—is driven by everyday people who take time to connect with their friends, neighbors, and public officials.

Riverkeeper works to link these people with one another, empower them with technical information, and fight for their rights in the courtroom.

The fight continues. Fracking companies desperately seek outlets for their climate-disrupting methane. Two massive fracked gas-to-methanol refineries proposed in the Lower Columbia River would consume nearly as much fracked gas as the entire state of Oregon. Meanwhile, shippers of tar-sands crude are eyeing the Lower Columbia River for outlets for oil that is so thick and polluting, it sinks upon spilling, a huge threat to salmon recovery in the Columbia River.

As the backers of the Millennium coal terminal continue to litigate over a rejected coal export scheme in Longview, Washington, the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board upheld the Washington Department of Ecology’s denial of a necessary water quality permit for proposed Millennium coal terminal, affirms that DOE acted validly to protect the water, land, air and people of Washington from harm.

The Columbia River has two futures. The first: a superhighway for fossil fuel exports—oil tankers, refinery smokestacks, flares and piles of coal eight stories high—enriching multinational corporations.

The second: strong, healthy communities and thriving local businesses united by clean air, clean water and sustainable salmon runs. Thank you for choosing clean air and water. When it comes to the onslaught of fossil fuel infrastructure on the Columbia, the actions you take in your community have global climate impacts.

What Can You Do to Help? Take Action.

Tell Washington State Gov. Inslee to “Oppose Kalama Methanol Refinery!” The world’s largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery threatens our safety, river, climate, and private property rights! Act now!

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By Miles Johnson

Why does a river organization like Columbia Riverkeeper dedicate so much energy to fighting fossil fuel projects?

First, fossil fuels threaten clean water. Think oil spills, pipelines that degrade salmon streams, coal dust in the river, and aerial deposition of mercury from coal-burning power plants. But we have additional motivation to fight fossil fuel infrastructure: climate change is harming the Columbia River and our communities right now. And giant fossil fuel corporations want to build more infrastructure—pipelines, fracked gas refineries, shipping terminals—to lock our region into continued reliance on dirty energy. Together, we are taking a stand to protect clean water and our climate.

By Miles Johnson

Why does a river organization like Columbia Riverkeeper dedicate so much energy to fighting fossil fuel projects?

First, fossil fuels threaten clean water. Think oil spills, pipelines that degrade salmon streams, coal dust in the river, and aerial deposition of mercury from coal-burning power plants. But we have additional motivation to fight fossil fuel infrastructure: climate change is harming the Columbia River and our communities right now. And giant fossil fuel corporations want to build more infrastructure—pipelines, fracked gas refineries, shipping terminals—to lock our region into continued reliance on dirty energy. Together, we are taking a stand to protect clean water and our climate.


With each victory over fracked gas, oil and coal, we are protecting clean water and our climate. This article explores four (of the many) impacts of climate change—salmon in hot water, extreme heat waves, fire danger and streams running dry—harming the people, animals and plants in our region right now. In addition, the article describes scientists’ projections of future impacts. Our work is urgent and full of hope. By defeating fossil fuel infrastructure today, we support the rapid transition to clean energy, which will increase prosperity in the Pacific Northwest.

Four impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest:

Salmon in Hot Water

The mighty Columbia River is synonymous with salmon. When tribes alone inhabited the Columbia River Basin, as many as 30 million salmon returned to the river each year. Despite significant declines, these salmon runs hold tremendous cultural and economic value for tribes and other river communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. While we struggle to restore the Columbia’s imperiled salmon runs, climate change is warming the river, making it even harder for salmon to survive.


Salmon leaping of Lyle FallsColumbia Riverkeeper

Salmon need cool water. Warm water encourages disease-causing bacteria and fungi, delays salmon migration and depletes salmon’s energy reserves. How warm is too warm? Adult salmon have difficulty swimming upstream when water temperatures approach 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Salmon that have stopped or slowed their migration, and languish for days or weeks in warm water, begin dying from stress and disease before they can return to their home streams to spawn.

Average summer water temperatures in the Columbia River have steadily increased over the past 60 years, and will only get hotter if climate change intensifies. Fifty years ago, the Columbia was too hot for salmon migration for only a week or two during the very peak of the summer. Now the Columbia frequently remains above 68 degrees Fahrenheit from mid-July until mid-September, making salmon migration during that time difficult or impossible. The Fish Passage Center, a federal science agency, explained that “under a climate change scenario, the long-recognized and largely unaddressed problem of high water temperatures … becomes an ever-increasing threat to the survival of salmon in the Columbia River Basin.”

That threat became a stark reality in the summer of 2015. Roughly 250,000 adult sockeye salmon, including 96 percent of the critically endangered Snake River sockeye run, died prematurely in the Columbia and lower Snake because the rivers were too hot. Though it’s convenient to call 2015 an outlier, climate scientists predict that the air and water temperatures that killed so many salmon in 2015 will become increasingly common.

To protect salmon, we must stop burning fossil fuels. In addition, altering and removing dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers can help solve water temperature problems. The Columbia and Snake dams create large, shallow reservoirs that trap the sun’s heat and warm up the rivers. If we operated the dams differently, and removed the lower four Snake River dams, we could directly address the hot water crisis that threatens salmon survival.

Free the Snake 2015 by Ben Moon for Patagonia

Extreme Heat Waves

Across the Pacific Northwest, hotter days and nights are growing more common. Climate change will increase the intensity, frequency and duration of extreme heat waves during the summer, with dangerous consequences. Heat kills more people in the U.S. in most years than floods, tornadoes or hurricanes. Our region’s cool, rainy reputation leaves many people unprepared to deal with extreme temperatures and heat waves.

The Pacific Northwest—like many other parts of the world—has seen record hot spells in recent summers. Climate change has already doubled the frequency of heat waves in some regions. And more extreme heat is on the way, even if we substantially reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions. Government scientists predict that heat waves in the Pacific Northwest over the next 30 to 60 years will be roughly twice as common as they are now and last twice as long. Summer temperatures that would have been extreme in the 1950s will become commonplace in coming decades, and we will see more record-high temperatures.

Extreme heat waves are dangerous. Heat is among the top weather-related causes of death in the U.S., responsible for an average of 1,500 fatalities per year. One recent study in Washington state found a 50-percent increase in heat-related hospitalizations during summers with serious heat waves. Residents of the Pacific Northwest may be at particular risk, even though heat waves here are less severe than in other regions. Many Oregonians and Washingtonians don’t think of heat as a health risk, may not know the signs of heat stroke, and may not have access to air conditioning. A nationwide study found that “areas along the West Coast showed very high vulnerability [to heat waves], even though their current climates are temperate.

Like many other consequences of climate change, extreme heat waves will cause the most harm to the most vulnerable members of our society. Because urban areas collect additional heat, elderly and poor people living in large cities face the greatest risks. Older people tend to be less resilient to the physical stress of prolonged heat waves. And in the Pacific Northwest, where many homes lack air conditioning, low-income communities may not have access to, or the ability to pay for, relief from the heat.

Fire Danger

Residents of the Columbia River Gorge and the Portland metro area won’t soon forget last summer’s Eagle Creek Fire: weeks of smoke and haze; road closures; evacuation alerts and vacant downtowns in Gorge communities that usually bustle with summer visitors. And while we had it bad, the deadly fires that ravaged California communities later in 2017 were downright catastrophic.

Across the nation and the globe, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Large wildfires in the U.S. currently burn more than twice as many acres each year as they did in 1970, and the average wildfire season now lasts two-and-a-half months longer. Less snow, earlier snowmelt and warmer air temperatures—all linked to climate change—lead to the hot, dry conditions that boost fire activity. Warmer, drier conditions also make fires harder to put out.

The Pacific Northwest’s forests will be especially susceptible to wildfires as our climate changes. In Oregon and Washington, the mountains of the Cascade and Coast ranges traditionally have wet winters and relatively cool summers, leading to infrequent forest fires. But if the average temperature increases by one degree Celsius in this region—including the Gorge—the number of acres burned each year could rise by more than 400 percent. In the forests of northeastern Oregon, the number of acres burned each year could increase by more than 500 percent.

While we fight climate change, we’ll also need to change the ways we manage and live with wildfire. Old ideas about wildfire suppression should be discarded; immediately putting out every forest fire, no matter the location, is incredibly expensive and allows dangerous amounts of fuel to build up over time. Forest management, like thinning around rural communities, may play a limited role. But powerful timber corporations and elected leaders should not use fire danger as an excuse to increase clearcutting and salvage logging that harm water quality, fish and wildlife.

Streams Running Dry

Washington, Oregon and Idaho are famous for beautiful, wild rivers and streams. The Wenatchee, Yakima, Deschutes, Clackamas and Selway—just to name a few in the Columbia Basin—evoke a powerful connection and sense of pride for many Pacific Northwest residents. We boat, fish, swim, and draw drinking water from our many rivers. Properly restored, these streams can once more support healthy salmon runs. But only if there’s enough water to keep our rivers and streams flowing.

Climate change threatens to decrease water levels in western rivers, especially during the summer. Most surface water in the West comes from snowmelt, but snowfall is declining and projected to decline faster if climate change continues. With less snowmelt to feed rivers throughout the summer, and warmer air temperatures increasing evaporation, many rivers won’t have much water left in the summer and fall. Some streams in the Columbia Basin may run dry altogether.

In response to declining snowpack, some suggest building new dams to trap rainfall and spring runoff. But dam construction would sacrifice the very rivers we seek to protect and restore. We already live with the legacy of thousands of large and small dams throughout the Columbia Basin. Dam construction is the past; dam removal and healthy, free-flowing rivers are our present and future.

One Columbia Basin stream already facing acute water shortages is Fifteenmile Creek. From its headwaters in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the creek flows into the Columbia River near The Dalles, OR, and provides an important spawning area for threatened steelhead. Fifteenmile Creek receives about 70 inches of precipitation each year—mostly as snowmelt—but irrigation already competes for scarce water in the summer, sometimes running the stream dry and killing young fish. Further decreases in snowfall and precipitation could push this imperiled population of steelhead over the brink of extinction.

Hope for a Brighter, Cooler Future

The threats from climate change are real and daunting, yet we see reasons for hope all around us. The Pacific Northwest is combating climate change by refusing to host coal and oil export terminals and by decreasing our reliance on fracked gas for power. Instead, your voice is driving a transition to clean, renewable energy and setting an example for the rest of the U.S. and beyond. Together, we can protect the Columbia Basin’s people and places from the worst impacts of climate change while protecting clean water.

Miles Johnson is senior attorney at Columbia Riverkeeper.

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